• Environmental Planning awaits PM’s permission
• Entrepreneur urges: Show crown land lease
• Says: ‘Now in my tenth year of seeking govt go-ahead’
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Bahamian entrepreneur yesterday “challenged Royal Caribbean to produce” its western Paradise Island crown land lease after a government agency voiced concern approvals are “still outstanding”.
Toby Smith, principal of Paradise Island Lighthouse & Beach Club Company, told Tribune Business he wanted the cruise giant to confirm if the crown land it is seeking for its Royal Beach Club destination includes that covered by his own lease agreement which is now the subject of a Supreme Court battle with the government.
He added that the need for clarity had been made more urgent by both the upcoming April 28 public meeting on Royal Caribbean’s bid for site plan approval of its Paradise Island project and accompanying documents, which raised questions over whether the cruise line has all the necessary approvals for its various land acquisitions and leases.
An April 1, 2021, memo from Rochelle Newbold, the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection’s (DEPP) director, to Jehan Wallace, a senior planner with the Department of Physical Planning, disclosed that the former agency was in discussions with Royal Caribbean and its Bahamian environmental consultant to clarify whether the necessary approvals had been issued by the Prime Minister’s Office.
“Department of Environmental Planning and Protection has requested copies of the title deeds to land holdings conveyed to Royal Caribbean for the development of this project,” Mrs Newbold wrote.
“On March 31, 2020, Department of Environmental Planning and Protection was provided an 85-page document of title deeds and conveyances for various parcels on Paradise Island. Still outstanding is the letter of approval of leases awarded to the developed by the Office of the Prime Minister.”
Royal Caribbean has steadily amassed around 13.5 acres on Paradise Island’s western end by buying out private landowners in the area, but it is also seeking to lease some ten acres of crown land in the Colonial Beach area to complete its development.
This has brought it into potential conflict with Mr Smith, who is seeking himself to lease two crown land parcels at Paradise Island’s western end, one of which involves two acres around the lighthouse and another three acres for the “beach break” element of his own $2m project.
Mr Smith’s court action is alleging that he was granted a valid crown land lease over both parcels, including the lighthouse and the area at Colonial Beach for his “beach break” destination, which is now legally binding.
A January 7, 2020, letter from Richard Hardy, acting director of Lands and Surveys, was headlined “approval for crown land lease” over the two tracts. Mr Smith previously told this newspaper he returned the lease, bearing his signature and other formalities, to the Government on January 9, 2020.
However, the Government has to-date failed to apply its signature and execute the lease, with officials telling the entrepreneur that the document is now “not worth the paper it is written on”.
Mr Smith previously voiced fears that his project was being “marginalised” and treated like “a second class citizen” to make way for Royal Caribbean’s rival beach break destination targeted at the same portion of Crown Land, and he yesterday queried how the cruise line’s site plan approval application could proceed to a public consultation given his live court challenge.
“I have a Crown Land lease that was signed, notarised, witnessed and payment in full offered to the Public Treasury via the Attorney General’s Office,” he reiterated to Tribune Business. “I don’t understand why the Town Planning Committee or the Department of Physical Planning would wish to entertain anything while this is an outstanding matter before the courts.”
However, Adrian White, the Town Planning Committee’s chairman and the FNM’s St. Ann’s candidate in the upcoming election, told this newspaper there was presently no Supreme Court Order in place to to stop the April 28 virtual consultation.
“Has anybody advised you there’s a court order preventing a hearing?” he asked. “All I’m saying is that there’s an application before the Town Planning Committee and a public hearing is being held because that application is before the committee.”
Mr Smith, though, in disclosing that Charles Zonicle, acting director of physical planning, had requested that he produce his own Crown Land lease agreement following his objections to the April 28 meeting, turned this around to make the same demand of Royal Caribbean.
“I challenge Royal Caribbean to produce a Crown Land lease agreement which will only confirm if the land involved in Royal Caribbean’s project is the same as that involved in my project,” he asserted. “This is another example of how the Minnis-led government does not allow Bahamians to thrive in The Bahamas....
“Why is it that Toby, as a Bahamian, is not afforded an opportunity as an investor to sit down and discuss this with the Government, the minister responsible for Crown Lands, with a view to resolving this issue? Today marks the beginning of my tenth year of trying to get this project up and running; begging and this stress every day.
“I have reached out to the chief executive of Royal Caribbean, Michael Bayley, to reiterate that nobody from Royal Caribbean has taken the time to understand my project, the need to respect my lease and understand what my project is all about.”